President Trump blasted Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the FBI for a Monday raid on the Manhattan home and offices of his private attorney, Michael Cohen. Trump made it clear in angry comments to reporters that he considered the raids to be part of the “witch hunt” directed against him by Mueller. When reporters asked Trump why he hasn’t fired Mueller, Trump brushed off the question, saying ambiguously, “We’ll see what happens.” He then added, “Many people have said, ‘You should fire him.’”
Trump also criticized Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for approving the raid which was required because it was beyond the scope of Mueller’s original mandate, which was to investigate allegations of collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russians to illegally influence the 2016 election. After more than a year of intensive investigation, no direct evidence has emerged to support that allegation.
On the other hand, plenty of evidence has emergeAd that pro-Clinton FBI investigators and Justice Department officials manufactured a premise for pursuing the investigation of Trump and his associates, based upon a dossier of fantastic, unverified charges against Trump that was paid for by the Clinton campaign.
TRUMP CONDEMNS AN “ATTACK ON OUR COUNTRY”
Trump called the early morning raids on Cohen’s temporary home at the Loews Regency Hotel on Park Avenue and his office space at the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs in Rockefeller Center as an “attack on our country in a true sense.”
The president made his comments about the raids to reporters in the Cabinet Room of the White House at the start of a meeting with his advisors to discuss the U.S. response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria.
“So, I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, a good man, and it’s a disgraceful situation,” Trump said. “It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time.”
Trump called Mueller’s team “the most biased group of people” because it is made up mostly of Democrats and some Republicans who worked for President Obama. “That is really now in a whole new level of unfairness.”
Trump added, “They only keep looking at us. So they find no collusion, and then they go from there and they say, ‘Well, let’s keep going,’ and they raid an office of a personal attorney early in the morning, and I think it’s a disgrace,” Trump said.
BOGUS CHARGES AGAINST TRUMP’S LAWYER
Monday’s raid was carried out under orders from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, which is sharing its finding with Mueller’s team of prosecutors. They seized his phone, personal computer and bank records. Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud and wire fraud in connection to a payment which he made in order to protect Trump from harmful publicity just before the election.
Cohen said he made the $130,000 payment in October 2016 from a personal home equity line of credit without Trump’s knowledge. The large cash transfer raised red flags at the Treasury Department as a suspicious payment, which required Cohen to explain the transaction to the banks involved.
If Cohen did in fact lie to obtain his line of credit from a ‘federally insured financial institution,’ he could be charged with a felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
An anti-Trump watchdog group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission in February claiming that Cohen’s payment should be treated as an illegal undeclared contribution to the Trump campaign. Cohen responded by insisting that the payment “was lawful and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
Cohen insists that he was not reimbursed by Trump or his campaign for the payment. In remarks to reporters aboard Air Force One last week, Trump confirmed Cohen’s claim that he was not told anything about the payment and did not know where the money for it came from. He referred all further questions about the payment to Cohen.
It would be hard for prosecutors to prove that Cohen’s payment violated election laws. Even though the payment was made 12 days before the election, there is no direct evidence that it was intended to influence the election outcome. If the payment is found to be an ‘in-kind contribution’ to Trump’s campaign, Cohen could be facing a second felony.
Ordinarily, confidential information shared by Trump and Cohen, acting as his lawyer, could not be used as evidence in a trial because of the well-established attorney-client privilege. If Cohen is found to have committed a crime on behalf of his client, the privilege does not apply.
Trump is angry that a judge issued a warrant for Cohen’s office and home to be searched and is convinced that the warrant would not have been issued if the real target of the search had been anyone other than himself as president.
MUELLER PLAYING LEGAL HARDBALL
Mueller probably referred the case to the U.S. attorney’s office to avoid a possible challenge to his authority to pursue the bank fraud charges which are well outside his original mandate. Lawyers for Paul Manafort, who was indicted by the special counsel on money laundering, tax and foreign lobbying charges unrelated to the 2016 campaign, have challenged Mueller legal authority to prosecute him. In Cohen’s case, all Mueller cares about is getting access to the documents that were seized in the raids to use in his own investigation of the president, and to put pressure on Cohen to cooperate.
Legal experts called the raid on Trump’s attorney an unusually aggressive action meant to intimidate the president, Mueller’s ultimate target.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, longtime friend of Trump, called the Cohen raids “a little heavy-handed. “Is this surprising? Yes,” said Giuliani, who is also a former U.S. attorney. “Is it extraordinary? No. This is the way prosecutors get information; sometimes to convict and prosecute, sometimes to exculpate.”
Giuliani speculated that Mueller may be turning up the heat on Cohen in an attempt “to compel the president to testify,” which Trump has resisted on the advice of his attorneys.
PRESSURING COHEN TO TURN AGAINST TRUMP
Cohen began working for the Trump organization in 2006. He has functioned as Trump’s chief troubleshooter and one of his closest confidants for the past decade. Trump has relied heavily upon Cohen to handle his most sensitive problems with efficiency and discretion. Cohen was said to have been disappointed that Trump did not formally bring him into his administration, but he remained loyal to the president nonetheless.
Cohen’s own lawyer, Stephen Ryan, complained that the unannounced FBI raids, which are reminiscent of Mueller’s tactics against Paul Manafort, were “completely inappropriate and unnecessary” because Cohen was already “cooperating completely” with the Mueller investigation and “all government entities, including providing thousands of non-privileged documents to the Congress and sitting for depositions under oath.” Ryan also confirmed that the raid was due, “in part, a referral by the office of special counsel, Robert Mueller.”
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a liberal who has raised constitutional objections to some of the legal attacks against President Trump, said that the raid “may be an attempt to squeeze Cohen” into providing evidence which could be used to directly link Trump to the payment, as well as other confidential matters over the years.
A THREAT TO THE LAWYER-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP
“This is a very dangerous day today for lawyer-client relations,” Dershowitz said. He then explained, “I tell [clients] on my word of honor that what you tell me is sacrosanct. And now they [the FBI] say, just based on probable cause … they can burst into the office, grab all the computers, and then give it to another FBI agent and say, ‘You’re the firewall. We want you now to read all these confidential communications, tell us which ones we can get and which ones we can’t get.’”
He recommended that Cohen file a motion in court to have the material which the FBI confiscated from his office turned over to a judge to determine which of it can legally be used as evidence against Cohen.
Dershowitz was concerned about the harsh treatment Cohen received even after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors. “This may mark the end of the kind of cooperation that Trump’s lawyers have been involved with. Cooperation doesn’t seem to have much payback. Maybe it’s better to go into a defensive fight mode.”
If that is the case, Dershowitz advised Trump to use “every legal tactic available to him” to fight Mueller and the FBI. He said the president could “assert” his rights as Cohen’s client and “go into court and seek to demand returned every bit of information that is arguably lawyer-client privilege before anybody has a chance to read anything.”
Dershowitz said he believes that Mueller has lost perspective on his investigation. He is also disturbed by the failure of liberal civil rights activists to protest the raid on the office of Trump’s lawyer. “If this were Hillary Clinton being investigated and they went into her lawyer’s office, the ACLU would be on every television station in America, jumping up and down. The deafening silence from the ACLU and civil libertarians about the intrusion into the lawyer-client confidentiality is really appalling,” Dershowitz said.
WHO IS MICHAEL COHEN?
Known for his determination and his fierce personal loyalty to Trump, Michael D. Cohen worked for a decade as a top lawyer at the Trump Organization. He never formally joined the Trump campaign but he did serve as a trusted advisor to Trump throughout the 2016 race, during the post-election transition and as the president’s private attorney after he took office.
Cohen’s name was mentioned in the dossier of opposition research compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele and paid for by the Clinton campaign. Based upon unverified Russian sources, it served as the blueprint for the FBI’s early investigation of allegations of Russian collusion in the 2016 election.
The dossier claimed that Cohen had held a secret meeting with Russian officials in Prague during August or September of 2016 in an effort to “clean up the mess” left by prior Russian contacts with Trump campaign members Paul Manafort and Carter Page. Cohen refuted that allegation by producing his American passport which indicates that he never visited Prague and was in the United States at the time of the alleged meeting.
Cohen was also approached via email during the 2016 campaign by a former Trump business associate, Felix Sater, who tried to interest Cohen in a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen ignored the email from Sater at the time and later told congressional investigators that he never took the proposal seriously.
TRUMP SOUNDS OFF AGAINST HIS CRITICS
In impromptu comments to White House reporters Monday, Trump claimed that his decision last May to fire James Comey as the director of the FBI has been justified by the result of subsequent investigations of the biased behavior of the FBI under Comey’s leadership. “I turned out to do the right thing because you look at all of the things that he’s done and the lies and you look at what’s gone on at the FBI,” Trump said.
Trump’s political enemies quickly seized on his refusal to rule out the possibility Monday that he might use the raid on Cohen’s home and office as a reason to dismiss Mueller. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York warned, “If the president is thinking of using this raid to fire Special Counsel Mueller or otherwise interfere with the chain of command in the Russia probe, we Democrats have one simple message for him: Don’t.
“Special Counsel Mueller, a Republican, has uncovered a deep and detailed pattern of Russian interference in our elections that has led to indictments and guilty pleas,” Schumer added. “It has also led to the Trump administration itself leveling sanctions against Russian individuals for meddling in our elections, proof that it’s not a so-called witch hunt.”
BREAKING THE DOJ PAPERWORK LOGJAM
The speed with which the Justice Department and the FBI acted to raid Cohen’s home and office compares drastically to the long delay for Justice Department officials to respond to requests from congressional committees with oversight jurisdiction for three specific sets of documents, the unredacted request for a secret search warrant from the FISA court in 2016 on Trump advisor Carter Page, the documents relating to the report of Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz critiquing the manner in which the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server was conducted, and the internal report which led to the firing of Andrew McCabe as assistant director of the FBI. The only reason the public was given for McCabe’s firing a day before he was going to retire last month was his “lack of candor” under oath.
After waiting in vain for the FBI to respond to those requests, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte issued a subpoena in late March for the documents. Over the weekend, when the FBI still hadn’t produced them, President Trump entered the picture and joined Republican committee members in accusing FBI and Department of Justice officials of engaging in a coverup.
WHAT IS THE FBI TRYING TO HIDE?
“Lawmakers of the House Judiciary Committee are angrily accusing the Department of Justice of missing the Thursday Deadline for turning over unredacted documents relating to FISA abuse, FBI, Comey, Lynch, McCabe, Clinton emails and much more. Slow walking – what is going on? Bad!” the president fumed.
“What does the Department of Justice and FBI have to hide? Why aren’t they giving the strongly requested documents (unredacted) to the House Judiciary Committee? Stalling, but for what reason? Not looking good!” the president added in another tweet.
Even before Trump entered the controversy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray began to pay attention to the congressional complaints.
On March 27, FBI Director Christopher Wray announced that he was doubling the number of agency personnel assigned to reviewing and redacting the documents that Goodlatte had subpoenaed.
On March 29, Sessions rejected calls from Republican committee chairmen for the naming of a second special counsel to look into these cases, but he did assign the senior federal prosecutor in Utah, John Huber, to review the Clinton and Carter Page cases. In a letter to Republican congressional leaders explaining the reasons for his decision, Sessions promised to keep them updated on Huber’s progress.
Huber’s probe into Mrs. Clinton’s dealings will extend beyond the FBI investigation of her private email server. It will also cover allegations that the Justice Department and FBI overlooked serious problems with the handling of contributions to the Clinton Family charitable foundation.
Huber will also review the Obama administration’s approval of the controversial sale of the Uranium One mining company in 2010, when Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state. Because Uranium One controlled 20% of American uranium ore deposits, it’s sale to a Russian state-owned firm required the approval of a committee of federal agencies, including Mrs. Clinton’s State Department. The company’s owners, major Canadian donors to the Clinton foundation, sold it to a corrupt subsidiary of Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy agency, which was under FBI investigation at the time.
Goodlatte and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy expressed disappointment that Sessions had rejected their request for a second special counsel, but they did welcome his appointment of Huber to look into the handling of the Clinton cases as “a step in the right direction.”
Republican lawmakers and President Trump are less satisfied with Sessions’ decision to assign Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz to review the questionable FISA warrant application for Carter Page. They note that the IG has fewer legal powers than a prosecutor to conduct his investigation, and he has no authority over the principal involved in the Carter Page case who are no longer with the FBI. The IG’s report is due at the end of this month.
THE PAPER IS NOW MOVING, BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH
The good news is that the paper logjam at the FBI finally seems to be broken.
Chairman Goodlatte received 1,000 pages of material he subpoenaed from the Justice Department on Monday, the same day it was announced that Sessions and Wray have appointed U.S. Attorney John Lausch of Illinois to supervise and expedite further document releases.
But some congressional Republicans who are frustrated with the Justice Department’s “slow-walking” of their document requests are unconvinced.
Congressman Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, wrote in an email, “The move to put a U.S. attorney in charge of documents production certainly is welcomed but it is a small gesture that is a little too late. This outsourcing of the decision making will not distance the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General from the legitimate criticism that they are obstructing our oversight responsibilities. [My] patience ran out last week after a fourth appeal to expedite the process was met with a yawn,” he added.
Republican Congressman Jim Jordan complained about the many redactions in the documents he does receive. He said that while the Justice Department’s moves to expedite delivery “may look good on the surface, they don’t address the problem if you still give us the same old blacked out pieces of paper.”
Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is also frustrated with the Justice Department for refusing to allow him to see an unredacted version of the document which was the basis for launching the original FBI investigation into alleged Russian collusion in the summer of 2016, as well as the original, unredacted warrant application for Carter Page’s surveillance.
GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF THE FBI PROBE
Nunes and his committee have been asking for these documents since August 2017. They are needed to resolve the partisan controversy over the origins of the FBI probe. The New York Times claims that the FBI investigation was launched by a report of an offer by Russian agents to provide political dirt on Hillary Clinton to Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos.
Many Republicans dismiss the Papadopoulos-Russian collusion narrative as too trivial to have been taken seriously by the FBI. They believe that the FBI would have demanded a lot more solid intelligence before launching a counterintelligence probe of a presidential candidate. These Republicans suspect that the fake Christopher Steele dossier was the real impetus for launching the investigation. If true, that would make the entire Russian collusion probe a cynical Democrat-funded political hoax.
Wall Street Journal commentator Kimberly Strassel writes that there is no other plausible reason for the Department of Justice and the FBI to go to such lengths to prevent Nunes from seeing an unredacted version of the electronic communication, or EC, that launched the Russia probe.
CAN WE BELIEVE THE PAPADOPOULOS STORY?
The only legitimate reason for keeping an original EC from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee would be if it contained sensitive information from a foreign ally. But if the New York Times version of the Papadopoulos story is true, then we already know where it came from. Supposedly, a slightly drunk Papadopoulus told an Australian diplomat in London that the Russians had offered him dirt for Trump to use against Hillary Clinton. The diplomat then reported the encounter to Australian security officials, who then passed it on to their American counterparts.
Another reason the Papadopoulos story is hard to believe is that according to the papers it filed in federal court, the FBI did not get around to interviewing Papadopoulos until January 2017, six months after his claim to have been contacted by Russian agents allegedly launched the FBI investigation.
WAS IT ALL BASED ON A LIE?
On the other hand, if the Papadopoulos story was a just convenient cover story to conceal the fact the Steele dossier was the driving force behind the investigation, then the FBI and the Justice Department would have every reason to prevent that embarrassing fact from going public. It would generate too many politically dangerous questions.
We already know that the Steele dossier was bought and paid for by the Clinton campaign, based upon Steele’s unverifiable Russian sources. It was then effectively hyped to the FBI and the media by Steele and Fusion GPS.
Who else in the Clinton camp or the Obama administration was involved in selling the dossier’s sordid tales about Trump to the American public? Did anyone in the FBI or DOJ try to verify the dossier’s claims before presenting them as hard evidence for a search warrant to a FISA court?
Even more important, how much would the answers to these questions tarnish the FBI in particular and the reputations of the Obama administration in general? If the FBI did rely significantly on the dossier in its pursuit of the Trump collusion investigation, it would be easy to understand why those involved are so desperate to keep the story hidden from the American public, especially so close to the midterm elections.
CIA DIRECTOR BRENNAN WAS PULLING THE STRINGS
George Neumayr, writing in the American Spectator, believes that then-CIA director John Brennan pushed the FBI to open the investigation into the imaginary collusion of the Trump campaign with the Russians in order to assure that Trump would be discredited and Hillary Clinton would be elected. Trump-hater FBI agent Peter Strzok actually launched the probe. The anti-Trump smears in Steele’s dossier helped to sell the urgent need for the probe. Those who were skeptical due to a lack of evidence backing up the dossier’s allegations were encouraged by pro-Clinton Obama officials to keep going with the probe anyway.
Meanwhile, Brennan, using his credibility as CIA director, was selling the Russian conspiracy theory. He told Congress, “We were uncovering information intelligence about interactions and contacts between U.S. persons and the Russians. And as we came upon that, we would share it with the bureau [FBI].” Brennan implied that this “information” came from British intelligence, but Neumayr suspects that it originated from ex-British agent Christopher Steele.
Brennan was also responsible for one of the earliest leaks about the FBI investigation of Trump for collusion with the Russians by telling then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid about it. Brennan knew that Reid’s SuperPAC was run by the same lawyer who paid Fusion GPS for the Steele dossier using money from the Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee. Brennan had no doubt that Reid would quickly leak word of the FBI probe into Trump to the media.
According to Neumayr, Brennan hoped to stay on under President Hillary Clinton as CIA director. That, and a visceral hatred for Trump, prompted him to push the storyline that “our allies tipped us off to Trump-Russian collusion.” That gave cover to the Hillary partisans in the Obama administration who were circulating anti-Trump smears among themselves and the mainstream media. The cast of senior Obama administration conspirators includes James Comey, Samantha Power, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, and former Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough.
RUSSIAGATE GETTING STALE
But after almost two years without supporting evidence, the Russiagate conspiracy story is getting stale, and it is in growing danger of being exposed as a cynical pro-Clinton hoax.
Democrats like to talk optimistically about a “blue wave” of voters putting then back in control of at least one house of Congress after the November midterm elections. But sooner rather than later, Democrats will need to find a new, more positive message to appeal to politically moderate voters who are getting tired of their anti-Trump obstruction coupled with an embarrassing lack of proof for the wild charges they have made against the president.